When I started studying New Urbanism some 9 or 10 years ago, I think I was shocked to find that there were really good reasons not to do the things that seem so obvious to us.
1) Wide Roads are safer than narrow roads. Of Course this is true. After all, there is far less chance of hitting something if you have plenty of space to drive.
2) Cul-de-sacs are safer. Another no brainer. After all, no one drives down a cul-de-sac if they don’t need to be somewhere at the end of the road. Less traffic = less accidents. Further, dead end roads mean that robbers won’t dare to try and target you, as they have no where to go.
Well, both of these statements are actually false, and now Virginia is leading the way to correct and change the way developers build. Statistics show that wide roads are far more dangerous, as drivers become complacent. Roads that have unexpected stops and curves (such as our Park Street after “traffic calming measures” were installed) cause drivers to slow down, and thus drive more carefully. Wide roads, even when in subdivisions lined with homes and kids playing, promote excessive speed.
As for cul-de-sacs, they cause more damage than they prevent. First off, rescue vehicles take far more time (and expense) to navigate neighborhoods full of cul-de-sacs. They increase distances between two points thus increasing the number of vehicle miles driven, and the decreasing the likelyhood that people will walk from point to point.
Well, Tim Kaine and the Virginia Legislature has done something about it. Check out the full report if you can’t fall asleep tonight. (It can also be accessed on my Report Download Page.) Finding ways to enforce powers not granted to legislative bodies has been a pastime for both our national and state governing bodies for decades, and this is no exception. The Federal Governement can’t dictate state drinking ages, so it instead refuses to give out Federal Highway Funds to any state not cooperating with their “recommendations.” The State can’t impose development guidelines, so instead it offers these recommendations to developers. The punishment for non-compliance is that the roads within the subdivision will not be accepted by VDOT for ongoing maintenance. Too expensive? Yup… Developers will take note.
The new regulations don’t outlaw cul-de-sacs, but they do create pretty substantial penalties for not connecting to nearby neighborhoods. Devotees of New Urbanism will applaud these actions. For a generation, the goal has been to live at the end of the cul-de-sac with minimal traffic so your children can play outdoors. The new goal will be to create neighborhoods where once again, children can ride their bikes to school without having to venture out onto a major artery.
The new regulations only affect urban and suburban areas, and to differing degrees, but the direction this is clearly taking is outstanding. Create a network of streets that allow pedestrians younger and older to walk and ride bikes where they need to go. I can’t wait to see this taking shape.